Happiness is a Lit Candle

This post is by Alisa Bowman of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

About a year ago, I was in a dark and dreary place. I was feeling bruised by the various publishers who’d rejected my book proposal, envious of authors who’d landed bigger deals than I had, angry at various people who didn’t seem to be supporting me in the way I would have liked, and fearful that readers would call my book worthless, boring or something much worse.

I was bathing myself in nearly every negative emotion a person could feel.

Then one night, while at my Buddhist meditation class, I began thinking about the concept of Karma and whether I really believed in it. As I mulled it all over in my mind, I had a very selfish thought. It was this: If I perform as many acts of good karma as I can during the next year, will it get my book on the bestseller list? I will admit that a creepy smile came across my face as I set out to create a Karma Bestseller.

I stopped killing bugs. I stopped gossiping—as backbiting goes against Buddhist beliefs. And every morning, I declared the following intention for my day: I will spread happiness.

I spread happiness by being kinder to my husband. I spread happiness by telling people how awesome they are. I spread happiness by mentoring any writer who asked for my advice, help or expertise.

I did it by giving money to people who seemed to need it. I did it by sending people sappy cards in the mail. I did it by listening to anyone’s problems. And I did it by comforting anyone who needed comfort.

One time, for instance, I listened as a young writer told me that she could not get over her fear of rejection. “I know I need to query magazine editors, but I don’t think I’m good enough of a writer yet,” she said. I told her that I would give her a $100 gift card if she were able to amass 100 story rejections within a month. “You can’t lose,” I told her. “Either you’ll get $100 or you’ll end up with more assignments than you can handle.”

By month’s end she had 30 rejections and five assignments. I gave her the gift card anyway.

Recently, several people questioned my sanity. They couldn’t understand, for instance, how I could devote an hour out of my day to mentoring a writer without charging that writer a fee. Some asked, “What’s in it for you?”

“There’s nothing in it for me,” I responded. “That’s the whole point. It wouldn’t be an act of good Karma if I expected something in return.”

And that’s when I realized that I no longer cared about my original goal. I was no longer trying to game the Karma system and use it to get my book on the bestseller list.

Let me be clear. I would not be disappointed if my book became a bestseller. I would not shed a tear if it sold a million copies. And I would not have a molecule of sadness anywhere inside of me if I were able to prove wrong all of the people who did not initially believe in me.

Still, this Karma Project of mine is no longer about the bestseller list or about my book at all. Now, the Karma Project is about one thing and one thing only: lighting candles.

Somewhere along the way I realized that joy does not come from money. It does not come from fame. It does not come from recognition. It does not come from awards. It does not come from seeing one’s name on a bestseller list. It doesn’t come from having an editor love one’s voice. It doesn’t come from getting oneself on prime time TV. It doesn’t come from 5 star Amazon reviews.

No, joy comes from doing good. It comes from knowing that you’ve touched so many people that, were you ever on your deathbed, those very people would hold lit candles and they would wish you health and happiness.

I am no longer in a dark and dreary place. These days—most of the time—I am happy, peaceful, and content. And whenever I do experience a moment of negativity, I think about those candles.

And then I set out to light more of them.

Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the story of how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. Find out how to enter the Fabulous PHEA Giveaway to win a Kindle, a stay at a B&B, marriage counseling, a vibrator and more with proof of purchase of Project: Happily Ever After. You can learn more about Project: Happily Ever After at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com. Watch the trailer and get a sneak preview into the book.

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  1. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how good deeds are two-way gifts — one for the good deed do-er and one for the recipient. I don’t think it really matters why we set out to light candles in the world. Even if our motives are entirely selfish, what a wonderful world it would be if more people acted in kindness — even just to make themselves feel better.

    I think I’ll start with me. 🙂

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. I thought this was a wonderful post Alisa. I have a mental picture in my head of a great blackness that is being lifted as happiness spreads and more candles are lit. I have always found great joy in feeling like I’m doing something good and right for the people around me, but I know I can do better. Thank you for sharing this insight!

  3. When you think about it, unhappiness is selfishness.

    It is impossible to be unhappy unless you are focused on, consumed with, and thinking about … yourself. This is why happiness is an indirect response, and comes to those who do not seek it. Happiness cannot come as a result of “trying” to get happy.

    Unhappy people are en large selfish people. Happy people don’t obsess over themselves – they typically are lost in the service of other people, or in some work that is greater than them.

    Alisa – I’d venture to guess you are happy now because your focus has shifted – from thinking about you, to thinking about others. You are involved in a good work and/or engaged in the service of others … like for example this nice article you wrote (which I’m sure will help allot of other people). Am I right?

    Good job and thank you!!

  4. Contrarian– so true. In fact, that was one of the teachings in the Buddhism class. Negative emotions are caused by self reflection–what they call “self cherishing.” When you focus outward–on others–you stop self cherishing. I think there might be limits to this idea, though. I think of people who give too much, in a co-dependent way. They give, but are not happy. I’m not sure I understand the source of that, but it’s something I ponder. Do you have thoughts?

  5. What a wonderful post Alisa. I have to admit that lately my focus and direction with regards to my own blog have been going astray, especially with all the articles and blogs about monetizing one’s blog and getting more people to comment.

    It left me depressed and worrisome for a while, but after reading a nice email from a past reader telling me that she found my purpose of helping my fellow freelancers admirable, I remembered the real reason why I started my blog and that’s to make a difference to the freelancing community here in the Philippines.

    Your experience has inspired me to keep writing with that single purpose in mind again and I thank you for it. I also checked out your book and wished I had the money to order it from Amazon! Oh well, maybe next time. =)

  6. Isn’t it amazing how being a good person doesn’t inherently mean success, but it makes you feel more successful by choosing to live more meaningfully?
    Sometimes we still have down days, but for the most part when you take your own headspace and energy into your own hands and create a positive place for yourself… things go well.

  7. Did you know that if you go out and help someone, anyone, that you will not only be helping them, but also helping yourself? Because what happens when you do an act of kindness for someone, it does not go unseen. That act of kindness is a spiritual action that goes to the spiritual world. That will have consequences for your life!!!! That act of kindness will have POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES on your life!!!

    There are millions of occurrences, good and bad, every day in people’s lives.

    It is your choice. When you do things – You reap the consequences.

    This is why I am so addicted to helping my neighbors when I get the chance!! It really is so true!!! There IS such a thing as Karma!!! You light other people’s candles – You are going to notice good things happening in your life, coming often from unexpected directions. You’ll know this when it happens!! You too can walk in the miraculous!!!

    I am so excited about this – I WANT TO SHOUT IT FROM THE HOUSETOPS until I am hoarse!!! I am really STOKED BIG-TIME about this reality – and you can be too!!!

    It is free!!!! Just help someone. Do good acts of kindness and see where it gets you!!!

    Your candle will be lit – You will have joy and will feel as I – You will want to shout this from the housetops too!!!!!!!!


    It’s the Christmas Season folks!!!! Let’s spread some cheer!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  8. Matt Salwasser says:

    I know I may be a little (or just plain REALLY) late to the conversation, but I just wanted to say good for you Alisa. There really should be more giving and kindness in the world, and sometimes all it takes is a few minutes or seconds to, in a way, find those matches needed to light someones candle. The small things really are worth sweating over. I remember the first time I heard about karma – my second-grade teacher telling our class that no matter what, if you do something good or bad to someone else, you will get yours. Funny how that was so many years ago and I still remember it…

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